January 28th, 2009

Reggaeting o Reggaetang

Speaking of the difference between hip-hop and reggaeton, there’s been a heated discussion over at Raquel’s reggaetonica, redrawing yet again the lines in the sand between the two genres and rehashing lots of tropes about Puerto Rico, blackness, hip-hop, and so on.

The debate was initiated by a polemic published last fall by a god named Sunez, editor of Lavoe Revolt. I find Sunez’s tone a little too pedantic for my tastes (and “musicological” his analysis is NOT; don’t get me started on his description of how hip-hop emerges from reggae), but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t raise good questions, as evidenced by the lively argument that ensues.

As for his wider points, I can see some merit in them, especially the critique of postcolonial “mental slavery” via the embrace of conspicuous consumption and degrading images of self/women, etc. But, really, that kind of criticism is not so different from the sort of stuff Stanley Crouch or Juan Williams say about hip-hop all the time. Much as I’m sympathetic to some of that, I guess my own pleasures listening to reggaeton and commercial hip-hop derive from a couple things: 1) the way that dance music, music that engages the body, serves as a kind of apolitical “politics” (an embrace of the sensual self that militates against the repression of our bodies in wider society); 2) the framing of conspicuous consumption as a militant stance re: enjoying the “good life” (flaunting symbols of wealth that have been denied to people of color for so long). In a sense, then, esp re: the latter point, I guess my position is kind of pragmatic / strategic. And overall, I suppose I do believe that the way such popular genres create communities holds some promise toward actual political mobilization, even if we haven’t seen much like that yet (tho the support for Obama among prominent rappers perhaps gestures that way).

I don’t feel the need to go through and debunk Sunez’s slandering of reggaeton point for point, especially since an anonymous commenter does a fine and thorough job of that. (Marisol is right to point out that the exchange becomes too much of a masculinist pissing contest and too “mired in issues of racial/cultural authenticity,” though I think Anonymous was simply seeking, in some sense, to playfully meet his interlocutor on some shared discursive ground.)

I have to chime in, though, along with Raquel & Anonymous, in defense of Tego. I guess I can understand how a dyed-in-the-wool New York rap fan might level such charges as —

Clearly put, [Tego Calderon] is an average MC (If he grew up in Brooklyn, he’d have no chance) who deliberately makes some sellout tracks to hustle his catalogue.

But that just doesn’t compute for me. And I can’t even claim to follow all the nuances of Tego’s deployment of Spanish, English, and old and new slanguage; I’m mostly reacting to flow when I listen to Tego. He’s an MC’s MC far as I’m concerned. I’ve weighed in on El Negro Calde here before, so I’ll save you my own treatises. I found the following pro-Tego jab by Anonymous to be both funny and spot-on —

I mean, if you can’t respect Tego’s technique maybe your Boricua Spanish needs a Windows Update, god.

For a little evidence, here’s some recent fuego from Tego, clowning on some clowns, no dembow needed. Love the line in the first verse which inspires the title of this post. Reggaeting o reggaetang? Dude can flip it flippant, seen? A little levity goes a long way.

Payaso (Part 2).mp3 – Tego Calderon ft. Chyno Nyno


  • 1. Birdseed  |  January 28th, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Bray, bray, the working class latinos have no taste, only I the magnificent educated person can judge the poverty of their music for them, that’s all I read in that polemic. The man obviously doesn’t care to even try to understand the genres he’s poisonously bleating about.

    It’s precisely, precisely the same sort of attitude you read again and again against all working class musics. I recognise the complaints word by word from Romanians writing about manele or whatever. It’s not a real complaint in the sense that the actual contents of the music doesn’t matter, it would be complained about anyway, purely as a class marker. (cf. this.)

  • 2. Canyon Cody  |  January 28th, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    i agree about tego, dudes def got flow. and with subtitulos you too can follow along at home

    words i learned from tego in “sin exagerar”:

    embobo, inodoro, and toparse, tho im still not entirely sure what cocorocos means

  • 3. Nina  |  January 29th, 2009 at 9:22 am

    As far as the class issue and the unwashed masses vs the elite-

    I like to irritate people and frame it as the Apollonian vs the Dionysian. Don’t we need both? Balance? The cerebral and the funky?
    I’m rather prim and proper and very much a thinker so I enjoy things that take me out of my head and encourage me to dwell in the here and now.My mind and body coexist, I don’t intend to ignore the needs of either.

    Tego has skillz.

  • 4. Raquel Z  |  January 29th, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I think, it’s an old-school salsa reference in that first verse: “Arrecotín Arrecotán.” A song that has versions by Maelo, Rolando Laserie and Celia Cruz. (Maelo’s is the hottest, hands down.) I couldn’t find links to them, but all three versions are in the iTunes Store.

    It didn’t dawn on me why you picked the title “Reggaetin o Reggaetang” until I read that it’s from the first verse.

    Once I read your explanation I thought: maybe so. There might be a double or triple reference in that phrase, because it also reminds me of Calle 13’s “Reguetín, reggaetón, reggaetón, reguetain / Están to’s cruzaos, colgaos, mal sincronizaos, desequilibraos […]”

  • 5. Raquel Z  |  January 29th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    I heard it again. I think it’s definitely “Arrecotín arrecotán” that he says.

  • 6. wayneandwax  |  January 29th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Jajaja. Thanks for the clarification, Raquel — and the possibly generous reading of my mishearing. Guess this is one instance where my incomplete salsa knowledge and rusty español prove to be blindspots.

  • 7. Gabriel  |  February 3rd, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I can’t believe Sunez spent 600+ words arguing about whether reggaeton is or isn’t a genre.

  • 8. wayneandwax  |  February 3rd, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Seems a little like a futile exercise, I suppose. Then again, I think he got exactly what he was looking for: a fight.

  • 9. Sunez Allah  |  February 23rd, 2009 at 1:20 pm


    I am honored in your taking the time to put up a criticism of my intentions, but these are not of my work or presented understanding. To dismiss me as a pedantic polemic is the same as calling Rakim a overly-wordy battle MC. I didn’t get a discussion from real students of the music; rather, I received particular attacks from fans on likes and dislikes. The sparring was born out of their attack on my person. The unnecessary warring over technicalities were their proposed justifications thrown in the ring.

    If my arguments aren’t musicological, I am interested in what makes a reasoning based in such? You implied that my description of hip hop emerging from reggae is incorrect? How so? You yourself have written about Kool Herc and his mere existence proves such? Hip Hop has many roots and that is a major one. I said, “its characteristics musically derive from Jamaican reggae” with mention of the dub plate. We may argue impact or the completeness of my statement not the relevance of this particular truth at the time presented. Please share your insights as I am a student of my peoples’ music.

    If my intention was just to attack and pose as an elitist hip hopper then upon response why was that not so? Please don’t project insecurities upon me. I told everyone who I am, where I’m from and where I’m at in the mentals. This is Hip Hop and that’s how I came, whether through this forum or face to face.

    In my very first response, I gave respectful turn to like and dislike, gave my personal criteria for the great, the average and the wack MC and listed a gang of MCs to give an idea of my entire framework for judging the art. If this was not with sincerity, how did I share an entire proposal for the furthering life of the style/subgenre [reggaeton] that I supposedly profess to hate so much? When I share how Hip Hop became a “movement [that] developed an ethic of principles, enforced by its leaders (i.e. Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation), that gave it direction and led to better music,” I am acknowledging that there are talented MCs out there. I am also acknowledging that an oppressed people can only waste a forum so long before it is co-opted. In fact, I present the reasoning that they are co-opted and destroyed faster today.

    Did I not say, “What should be observed in my words is the usefulness of the stance and perspective along with the proposal that is made. I would not spew such words unless I saw a potential and offered a proposal, however challenging.”? Or offer the real grounds of analysis that every great work by a Reggaeton artist is just more great MCing. Just as you prove with posting a dope Hip Hop song by Tego.

    You yourself were a rapper and now a writer? That’s peace so let proper education always correct errors. You criticize me and laud that I supposedly got smashed yet the only thing that gets deader is the Reggaeton movement. Please take note that flossing is an easy way to enjoy Blackness but never the truth of being Black.

    “Caught up in the silk web of material/Superficial stains the brain tissue/ that’s the issue/The young is lost at their own cost, dreamin/Screamin/ how they never hold positions thats demeaning” – GZA “Victim”

    Sunez Allah

  • 10. wayneandwax  |  February 23rd, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Peace, Sunez.

    I don’t doubt your sincerity at all. And I actually agree with you in plenty of places. I like the way you put it with regard to flossing, for instance. I would never reduce blackness to something like bling-style conspicuous consumption (though some would say, not that I agree, that “It’s in a black person’s soul to rock that gold”). Indeed, I would never reduce blackness to anything. Who am I to say? But then again, who is anyone?

    I have to admit, though, despite coming up on a lot of the hip-hop that you would no doubt recognize as canonical (from B.D.P. to P.E. to B.I.G., who all shaped my own politics) — that I’ve also been persuaded that the politics of flossing can be reconciled with a certain brand of black/racial politics — that flossing might actually serve a certain critical function in a certain context: in a world where black people are systemically excluded from sharing in the wealth, flaunting the symbols of wealth can undermine racial ideologies which attempt to naturalize the disproportionate degree of social ills suffered by people who are racialized as black. This is as true, I think, in Greenwich Village (pace Manthia Diawara) as in Kingston (pace me). We can disagree about all that, but I think the jury’s still out. And I’m not ready to bet against reggaeton or Kanye West just yet, much as I may sympathize with aspects of your more hardline stance.

    That’s a bit of an ideological accommodation on my part (and here I’m talking not about racial ideology but political ideology — i.e., socialism/Marxism), since I think we’re on the same page to the degree that we distrust the superficial, the material, the glamorous, as all serving to reinforce the present world order. I guess I’m just not willing to be too dogmatic (or pedantic) about that, though. Live and let live, knamean.

    I think there are other ways to hear reggaeton, or to imagine the political work that it’s doing (even if it doesn’t look like revolution to all of us all the time). It does serve to bring people together (even as it pushes others apart, as these conversations — and others — quite strongly attest!). And it’s not clear to me that hip-hop — so laaaarge and splintered as it has become — is doing any better/different political work, at least generally speaking. Indeed, I think it’s more likely that reggaeton and hip-hop are both working together in their cultural politics — engendering new communities, who may be more drawn together by simple pleasures than anything else, but who are together reimagining the lines between selves and others. We might see the election of Obama as a product of that cultural politics. I think the jury’s out on that too.

    Or we might be a lot more cynical/radical about it and say, fuck the dumbshit. I’m with that. But I’m also along for the ride, for better or worse.

    Finally, I wasn’t questioning the idea that hip-hop is related to reggae in some pretty profound ways. I don’t have a problem with the crux of what you said in that regard — just with the particular wording, e.g., “the dub plates are the inspiration for Kool Herc taking breaks that recreate that repetitive bass groove and break snare for toasting.” I think I know what you mean by that sentence, but it took me a while to grok it (in part because “dub plates” tends to refer more to vocal cuts than instrumentals, and also because terms like “break snare” are not common parlance, knomesayin?); moreover, I’m concerned that it might draw too straight a line of “inspiration,” downplaying the cultural specificities of Herc’s Bronx context in deference to the power of transmitted tradition. But, hey, there’s a legit politics in telling the story one way or another.

    As it happens, a lot of my research FOCUSES on the Jamaican threads running through hip-hop, and my piece on Herc was an attempt to explore — but as carefully and precisely as I could say it — the ways reggae soundsystem practice got transmuted in the Bronx and, along with other things in the mix, eventually emerged as hip-hop.

    I find it equally fascinating to hear how Puerto Rican underground synthesized hip-hop and dancehall in a totally unique way, even if it eventually settled into the commercially-driven, relatively monotonous genre we call reggaeton. That’s a history I try to tell in our upcoming Reggaeton book. I’ll be curious to hear what you think — whether you find my narrative about reggaeton’s “politics” persuasive or not.

    Regardless of the rhetorical justifications we trot out in support of our aesthetics, or as you put it, our “likes and dislikes,” don’t we just sound like old fogeys if all we do is cherish the “classics” — with all their integrity and virtuosity — and hate on the kids’ music as corrupt and simplistic?

  • 11. wayneandwax  |  February 25th, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    just want to flag a few germane, provocative quotations from Manthia Diawara’s “Homeboy Cosmopolitan” chapter (pdf linked in comment above) —

    253 – “the black good life … rejects the imprisoning and policing of black bodies by a racist and capitalist system”

    272 – “Homeboy activism places mobility and consumption at the very center of the struggle for the black good life. Homeboys refuse to be restricted to black enclaves or to be defined by racial stereotypes. Instead, they put those very stereotypes of blackness in the marketplace, and obtain the highest price for them. Mobility and consumption have thus become the vehicle through which young blacks control prevailing strereotypes and regain their individuality in the crowd.”

    & finally, an interesting passage linking contemporary hip-hop cultural politics to the practices/attitudes of recently arrived black immigrants (and their children) in NYC:

    274 – “Recent immigration laws favoring blacks from Africa and the Caribbean have also enabled these new Americans to move into the social space created by the civil rights movement. … Unlike African Americans, they arrived in this country as individuals searching for freedom and the American dream. … In their disregard for history and their inclination toward individual mobility and profit in the market economy, African and Caribbean immigrants share the same mentality as the hip-hop generation. … The hip-hop generation and the new immigrants take for granted the privileges won by the civil rights struggle; and they see no need to continue fighting to further these rights, because they want to use the already-won space to do other things.”

  • 12. wayneandwax  |  March 12th, 2009 at 11:50 am

    another passage just caught my eye wrt the issues discussed here. from paul gilroy’s postcolonial melancholia

    127 – “The later 1980s and the 1990s saw the vernacular eschatology of the Caribbean basin [i.e., Rastafari] succeeded by a much more self-consciously militant and militaristic approach to black solidarity. This political culture was the obvious product of the overdeveloped world. A hip-hop mentality that derived from the traumatic geography of American Apartheid and was addressed to those distinctive conditions of inequality and exclusion replaced Ethiopianist asceticism and humility with a culture of play and excess. Martin Luther King became Uncle Tom, while Malcolm X was recovered manhood. Under the corporate tutelage of Spike Lee and company, consumerism, hedonism, and gun play were no longer to be incompatible with the long-term goals of racial uplift.”

    gilroy is talking specifically about the london/UK context here, but the shift he describes happened in the US and has since gone global. (one complicating factor: a similar shift was already underway by the early 80s in underdeveloped jamaica, which would, in turn/dialogue, also shape hip-hop’s stances.)


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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